The Air Force is delaying a new center for rescue missions at a base near Tucson, Arizona, after Sen. Mark Kelly won a prohibition on retiring the venerable “Warthog” A-10 fighter jet in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
On Friday, the Air Force said it is awaiting congressional action on the matter before the pause will be lifted and work will begin at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The move to build the “Center of Excellence” for close air support and rescue missions is contingent on congressional approval of President Biden’s budget request to retire 42 older-model A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft.
The Air Force said 35 of the A-10s are located at Davis-Monthan.
“The funds made available from retiring these older A-10s would create the fiscal and manpower flexibility required to design and field the future force needed to meet combatant commander requirements,” the Air Force said in a statement.
Mr. Kelly, Arizona Democrat, said the A-10, popularly known as the “Warthog,” has been an invaluable close air support asset to American troops for 40 years.
“Its capabilities are unmatched, and its cost-effectiveness can’t be beaten,” said Mr. Kelly, a former Navy pilot who has flown close air support missions in combat.
“I don’t see how the F-35 or the F-16 is going to be effective in this mission, flying low under cloud cover [and] delivering ordnance on an enemy’s position while visually identifying where are guys are on the ground,” Mr. Kelly said May 26 during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The A-10 is a mid-1970s’ product of the Cold War, designed to attack Soviet tank columns pouring into Western Europe. While it was never needed for war between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, it proved tremendously effective in recent years flying close air support missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because of its enormous GAU-8/A Gatling gun, capable of firing almost 4,000 rounds a minute.
The Air Force has attempted to retire the slow-moving attack jet several times over the years. But it has always run into heavy resistance from Congress and the aircraft’s backers, who maintain that no other jet can do the close air support mission as effectively.
While they want to retire 42 A-10s, Air Force officials said they plan to modernize and keep 218 combat-capable A-10s within their fighter fleet. The service said it has invested $880 million in projects to modernize the electronics and buy new wings for the attack jets.